“Luda! What the hell are you doing here!?” I screamed out in surprise.
My sudden yell did not seem to deter the dragon’s attention, as it homed onto the child holding its eggs.
I was relieved that I had avoided certain death, but there was no way I could let him fall into danger instead. Hoping that Luda had simply stolen the eggs to hold them hostage, my face twisted in horror as he suddenly raised one of the eggs in his hand and slammed it down to the ground. The moment a sickening splat echoed around the area, the dragon gave out an enraged roar before charging straight at the offender.
If Luda hadn’t been an Electi that excelled in speed, that would’ve been his end right there.
However, the dragon’s teeth met with nothing but its own enamel as Luda had already moved a fair distance away before it had reached him. Knowing that it had missed, the dragon immediately flapped its wings and redirected itself towards the direction of Luda’s scent. All of this happened so quickly that I could barely move to act.
Thankfully, Eryn and Saki had finally caught up, readying their weapons to combat the enemy. Unlike my hesitant self, they were seasoned fighters who instantly reacted to the situation. Already, Eryn was in the middle of casting wind magic to restrict the dragon’s movements. On the other hand, Saki swung her hammer to the ground, breaking free bits of rock that were launched at the dragon’s gliding form.
I mentally smacked myself at my own slowness to act. Though I had just convinced myself to protect Luda, I was the only one that hadn’t done anything yet. I bit my lip as I ran forward with my knife raised, looking for an opening.
As Luda continued to bait the dragon towards him, Eryn’s and Saki’s attacks peppered its body. Every time their attacks connected, the dragon momentarily turned towards them, only to be driven into looking back at the child smashing yet another egg.
A quick glance at the dragon’s condition made it obvious that the damage of their combined attacks was accumulating. Its wings were riddled with holes, making flight no longer viable. Having been grounded, its movement would be much easier to predict. At this rate, I would be able to catch up to the flightless lizard that now relied solely on the speed of its legs.
However, there was hardly any place for me to execute an attack between the barrage of magic and rock that continued to assault the dragon. If I were to dive senselessly into it, that would break up the whole rhythm that the two already had going on.
In fact, I was surprised by how well the two worked in tandem. Without even a single word uttered, they were focusing their attacks on the dragon in sequence, timing them such that neither interfered with each other. Perhaps seasoned warriors that have fought once before had a natural sense for these kinds of things, but I could only marvel at the spectacle before me.
A bit sore that there was no way for me to contribute, I turned my attention to locating Luda, which ended up being more difficult than I thought. The speed in which he moved was straining my eyes. As soon as my sight had locked onto him, his figure quickly blurred again as he propelled himself away from the pouncing dragon.
After many exchanges had occurred, my eyes suddenly were able to keep up. Were they getting used to the motion? No…Luda was getting tired. The delay in his movement was getting longer as it took more effort to muster up the next dash.
At some point in time, Luda had already smashed all of the eggs in his possession. Even with that load removed, keeping a body running at full speed was certainly not something a child that had barely acclimated to this world should be doing.
Given this, the only thing I could think of was to return to the cavern and fetch more eggs. The other two fighters weren’t even able to spare a glance in my direction due to their focus on the battle, but they too could see Luda’s deteriorating condition.
Quickly scanning the area, my eyes happened upon what I needed. In the back corner, there were two remaining dragon eggs that had been untouched. Picking both up, I raced back to the scene of the battle.
Making sure that the dragon’s head faced in my direction, I threw both of them down. Instantly, the dragon realized what I had done and turned its fury towards me now. Wielding my knife once again, my three companions turned towards me in surprise at this change of events.
I had made up my mind. Even if it was a stupid decision on my part, at least I could tell myself that I didn’t regret it.
As the dragon dove towards me, I mustered all the strength in my legs to dash to the side. The wind pressure of its body as it sailed by me nearly knocked me off my feet. However, the roaring wind had managed to rip the chef knife out of my hand. Apparently, the margin of error was even narrower than it had ever been when chasing Luda.
No, what’s done is done. I had to focus on dodging, even if I was at more of a disadvantage. I had to rely on the attacks of Eryn and Saki to fell the dragon. I had to pray that I could keep going long enough for them to deal a decisive blow.
As my eyes remained fixed on the dragon’s movements, wind hammers pounded against the dragon’s head and shards of sharp rock were lodged into its hard scales. Several rounds of cat and mouse were played between the dragon and I, as it tried to shrug off the attacks from others. Blood dripped across its entire body, yet it did not give in to our assault. No doubt that I was only safe due to its current weakened state.
‘Good, it shouldn’t take much longer to bring him down,’ I thought for a moment.
As soon as this flashed across my mind, the gods appeared to jeer at me for my moment of relief.
Having solely focused on the movements of the dragon, I neglected to keep track of where I had been stepping. My foot stepped into one of the cracks made by Saki’s hammer earlier, abruptly sending me to the ground.
Once again, I had screwed up. I cursed at myself. How could I let myself make such a fatal mistake? I had managed to survive until now, but something told me that the dragon’s jaws wouldn’t miss this time.
Therefore, I waited for the resulting intense pain that would signify my end.
But that never came to be.
I felt a gust of wind whiz by me from behind. The next thing I saw was the figure of Luda with my knife racing past me. Both hands clutched the knife tightly as he extended his arms forward, all the while dashing straight into the path of an open mouth with razor sharp teeth.
Time seemed to slow down as I looked on in shock as Luda sailed past the row of teeth and stabbed the knife into the back of the dragon’s mouth. This sudden injury caused the dragon to recoil its head back and its mouth to snap shut in reflex, trapping Luda inside. Knowing not what else to do, the dragon simply swallowed the contents of its mouth. I watched in horror as a visible bulge was swept down its throat. Afterwards, only a trickle of blood could be seen running down its lower jaw in an otherwise empty mouth.
“LUDAAAAAA!!!!” I screamed in disbelief.
The three of us stopped in our tracks as we saw our young companion ingested by the dragon.
Eryn quickly raised her arm once again to chant a strong spell, but moments later, Saki held up her hand to stop her.
“Huh? Why are you stopping me? We have to kill it quickly and get him out!” Eryn objected.
“No, you’ll risk injuring him that way. And look…the dragon is behaving strangely.” Saki pointed forwards.
Indeed, the dragon had also stopped attacking us as well. It appeared to be shaking its head back and forth in aggravation. Something was clearly distracting it away from us.
“You don’t mean, Luda is still attacking from within the stomach?”
My guess was met with a nod from Saki. If that was the case, then this would be our chance to take it down. However, we would have to get Luda out before we could deal a killing blow. But how?
A sudden thought occurred to me. Since I could get close while it was distracted now, there was something that I could try.
“Saki, Eryn, cover me.”
Without waiting for an answer, I dashed straight towards the belly of the dragon. Though its upper body was moving around, the lower half had remained mostly fixed in the same position. Eryn cast wind magic to hold it in place while I raced towards it. Placing my hands along its stomach, I quickly felt around for the right spot.
Having verified the location of its heart based on its beating against my palm, I had a grasp of where its other organs were. If it was anything like what would happen with humans, then hitting a certain location would…
With my hands lined up on that spot, I jabbed a finger into the location of my best guess. The muscles underneath my finger suddenly contracted as the dragon suddenly grew stiff. Immediately afterwards, its body jerked violently as my hand on its stomach felt a shaky rumble. Knowing that I most likely hit the mark, I dashed off to the side before I became entangled in its tantrum.
The next moment was something that I’d like to wipe from my memories. The disgusting sound of a dragon regurgitating its stomach’s contents echoed down the mountain. The foul odor stained the ground around it as dark liquid showered the earth and flowed downwards. In that liquid was a lone child that was curled within that sludge.
I had hit a spot that induced vomiting. Given the circumstances, I thought that it would be a much faster method to free Luda than killing the dragon first. However, I had not been prepared to face the disgusting consequence.
Paying this scene no mind, Saki swung her hammer down onto one of its hind legs. Finally able to get close enough to directly inflict damage with her hammer, her extreme attack power shattered the bones in its leg and nearly snapped it right off its body.
As the dragon rolled on its side, Saki delivered another blow, straight into its rib cage which collapsed from the overbearing force. The dragon weakly howled before it started spitting up copious amounts of blood; likely, the bones had pierced its organs.
With the dragon at death’s door, it mustered one final burst of energy and jumped up, flapping its torn wings. Though it failed in taking to the air, this single action had been enough to launch it gliding a good distance away from us.
Eryn started to give chase, but Saki held her back.
“Leave it. That injury was fatal. It will die soon enough.”
Saki watched as the dragon limped out of our sight, convinced that it would never return.
On the other hand, I had long moved by the side of the one who had sacrificed himself to save me. Though Luda had been soaked in the disgusting mixture of stomach acid and dissolved food, I ignored my nose to go check on him. He had created the key opening we needed to take the dragon down, so it was the least I could do.
Not caring about getting myself dirty, I lifted him off the ground and set him on a cleaner surface. Checking his vitals, I was relieved that Luda was still breathing and had a good pulse. It seemed that he had only passed out. We were lucky to have saved him in time.
I breathed a heavy sigh of relief that I would not have the death of a child hanging over my head for the rest of my life.
Now that the immediate danger was over, I noticed that Luda was still curled up with his hands clutching onto something strongly. Stretching his body out, the clatter of a metal knife sounded as it hit the ground. Even passed out, Luda had held onto it closely, never surrendering it to the dragon.
Something about this touched me deeply, as I couldn’t help but envelop Luda in an embrace.
“Ma-Master?” A weak, drowsy sound came from the embraced body.
“No, it’s just Claude. You’re safe now. We beat it,” I softly whispered.
“Claude…master…now. Protect…master.” Luda returned my embrace.
Looking up, Eryn had made her way over to catch my attention.
“Now’s probably not the time to be doing that.” She pointed downwards.
With Luda still in my arms, my eyes traced along the ground where she pointed to. Several scraps of cloth had fallen to the ground. I looked back at Eryn in confusion.
“Well, it appears that the dragon’s stomach fluid reduces the durability of clothing. Looks like it finally gave out,” she said while looking off to the side.
Taking a moment for that statement to register, I recalled that armor protected the entire body, which was likely why Luda didn’t suffer any physical injuries while in the acidic environment of the stomach. However, clothing could still be damaged in this case. And when clothing was damaged to a certain extent…
I removed myself from the embrace. Sure enough, the robe and pants that I had just purchased for Luda had crumbled apart. Nevertheless, if it were simply that, my heart wouldn’t have frozen still.
Even with the slightest glance, I could tell something was off. But the lack of certain ‘parts’ on the lower body had been the kicker.
Luda had been female all along.
My mind didn’t register the questioning looks on Eryn and Saki’s faces as I tipped backwards and flopped onto the ground.
“I think the smell of dragon vomit is making me hallucinate. Please wake me up after it clears.” I closed my eyes, praying that what I saw was merely that.
A cloaked man stood next to the figure of a severely weakened dragon, which had only minutes left to live.
“How lucky. They left it in the perfect condition for me.” The man smiled to himself as he looked over his target.
Thrusting his hand into the chest of the dragon, it convulsed for a few moments before settling still. Though its bodily functions had ceased momentarily, a purple glow soon radiated from its body, bringing it back to life.
The man laughed heartily as he pulled his bloody hand out of the dragon’s body. Its revival had been complete, only now in a demonized form. The man licked his lips as he looked forward to his experiment.
Casting a magic spell, a portal enveloped both forms. Moments later, there was no longer any sign of either the man or the dragon.